One Filling For Twofer Classics
Let’s go on an Italian adventure with some new pasta shapes and clever work-arounds. My childhood experience with lasagna was my Mom’s affair: packing everything but dessert into a 5 pound pan of deliciousness. It was like eating warm and savory-cheesy pound cake.
For the other less known Italian classic, I had my first taste of manicotti—creamy filled crepes in marinara as a newlywed. Like eating creamy silken purses! I learned from my wife’s Italian workmate who came over and helped make 100 crepes to fill with a dreamy, cheesy filling. To freeze, we would stack folded crepes—three across—and on wax paper, and repeat and repeat. Our freezer was ready for deliciousness whenever the mood struck us.
Eventually I started my cooking school and came across this unique way to make lasagna that was a lighter pasta course with an awesome look—pinwheels. The labor to make is less intensive—more like coloring Easter egg kind of labor. It’s a great group chore, kiddy friendly.
Then I kept the filling simple enough to be used for either lasagna or manicotti, and I did some other hacks like using cottage cheese for ricotta, and Asian spring roll wrappers for the crepes. Now it’s a nice afternoon working with a friend or two to make a big batch and continue a traditional in my kitchen.
And for that delicate stuffed pasta—manicotti—I borrowed the Asian summer roll wrappers to skip making the eternally fussy crepes to encase the filling, although some have adapted this dish using large tube shaped pasta.
The filling is easy-peasy and you can interchange it with either dish.
Have a Roman holiday and gather up pantry items and a few ingredient hacks and make some adventure.
INGREDIENTS FOR EITHER DISH: I substitute full fat, small curd cottage cheese for the traditional ricotta, but either works well. You can exchange or combine pecorino-romano cheese with the parmesan
LET’S MAKE LASAGNA: For different tastes, blend other grated hard cheeses with the parmesan, like pecorino romano, or manchego
- lasagna noodles – 9 large [one box]
- cottage cheese – 3 cups, [or ricotta]
- eggs – 2 large
- parmesan cheese – 3/4 cup, finely grated—and divided
- garlic – 2 cloves, smashed and minced or finely grated
- parsley – 1/3 cup, minced then measured
- salt – 1/2 tsp
- pepper – 1/4 tsp
- nutmeg – 1/8 tsp [optional], nice in small amounts
- mozzarella – 1/2 LB, coarsely grated
- marinara sauce – small jar or homemade
- Optional: spinach, cooked and squeezed dry, finely chopped
- TOPPINGS AT TABLE: more parmesan
INSTRUCTIONS: For Lasagna
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add 3 TBS table salt and add the noodles, then cook until al denté per package directions
- If using spinach, add to the pasta water after removing the noodles and cook a few minutes, then squeeze almost dry
- Lay noodles out flat to cool
- Make the filling by combining: cottage cheese, eggs, only a 1/2 cup of parmesan, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg and/or cooked spinach [if using], and mozzarella
- Slice the lasagna noodle in half down the length, but do not separate
- Spread a thin layer of filling down the entire noodle
- In a baking dish that will just hold all the pinwheels, add about a 1/4 inch of marinara
- Roll up each lasagna half and place in the baking dish, standing as shown below
- Preheat the oven to 350º
- If there is any extra filling spoon it into the center of each pinwheel
- Add enough marinara to just cover the top of the noodles and in between each pinwheel
- Sprinkle on the remaining parmesan and cover the dish with foil
- Bake for 25-35 minutes, then uncover and broil a few minutes to brown the top
- Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving
INSTRUCTIONS: For Manicotti
- Make the filling [see Step 4]
- Choose a baking dish large enough to place the manicotti in a single layer, side by side to just crowd the dish
- Next pour a 1/4 inch of marinara in the baking dish and spread evenly
- Peel off two spring roll wrappers and lay flat on your board. We are doubling the wrapper as they are so thin, this will give better structure
- Use a rounded 1/4 cup of filling and mound along the middle of the wrapper, do not spread over the entire wrapper, just spread to the opposite edges in the middle strip
- Carefully wrap over the top and bottom to form a tube with the filling in the middle
- Lay in the baking dish and prepare to lay each additional tube so they are all nestled in one layer
- Preheat oven to 350º
- Note: you can make additional manicotti and freeze any extras at this stage
- Pour on additional marinara to lightly cover the manicotti and sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan and cover with foil
- Bake for 15-20 minutes covered, then remove the foil and broil for a minute or two, be vigilant!
- Serve with additional sauce and sprinkle with parsley or fresh torn basil
Above Left: Manicotti with Drumsticks Right: Manicotti with Meatballs and Braised Greens
– Recipes adapted by B. Hettig